MCALLEN, RGV – Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said she’s seeing about 250 to 350 immigrants everyday at the Parish Hall of Sacred Heart Church. To accommodate the numbers, Catholic Charities broke ground Dec. 1 for a new immigration respite center.
There is a large number of immigrants coming from areas such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They are released with a court date and are dropped off at a bus station to proceed to their destination.
According to a news release from The Valley Catholic, a newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville, Sister Pimentel first opened the parish hall of Sacred Heart Church in 2014 as a respite center for immigrants when she heard there were families gathered at the bus station in downtown McAllen with no shelter. Since then, over 57,000 immigrants have passed through the center receiving aid such as food, clothing, shelter and medical attention.
With the new respite center, located only two blocks from the bus station, immigrants will continue to receive aid.
“It is a way to celebrate who we are in the Rio Grande Valley,” Pimentel said in the news release. “We have shown the world that our community cares about others, that we care about the dignity of our brothers and sisters in need and we respond with respect. While we have some [of] the poorest regions in the country, the people have been most generous in serving others.”
The respite center hopes to begin construction in the early months of 2017 and will have an estimated cost of $1.5 million. The funds will come from fundraising.
However, the construction of the center doesn’t stem from the assumption that the amount of immigrants will remain the same or increase within the coming years. McAllen mayor Jim Darling said the center can be re-purposed for other things such as a hurricane center.
“We cannot predict or know what is ahead of us,” Pimentel said. “What we do know is that we’re right at the border,immigrants are [coming] and this is a reality that we’re going to continue to see. Whether it continues as it is or not, we don’t know, but we definitely need to be prepared to have a place for whatever the need is and right now the need is for the immigrants. We will continue to try to be present to the needs of our community.”
Violence is one of the main reasons for immigrants crossing the border. Darling said it’s well known that the drug cartel controls Mexico and that they find more money in transporting people as opposing to terrorizing, kidnapping and extorting them.
“We’re not hearing the horror stories we heard about a year and a half ago. It doesn’t mean things improved, but it’s all kind of morphed into a different process,” Darling said.
While the journey through Mexico may not be as violent, it is still violent in other areas in South America.
“The violence in their countries have not changed, but rather it has amplified and the families are coming because the violence is there and they fear for the lives of their children–over 50 percent of the [immigrants] that pass through are kids,” Pimentel said.